As he circles the ice with a few Sabres teammates, Cody McCormick wishes the light morning workouts would turn into real NHL games again. Then he meets his wife for a lunch date and helps his son and two daughters prepare for Christmas.
“You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you might not come home to your family,” he said.
The disturbing thought sends the 32-year-old back to his research on blood clots, which have put his career on hold for almost a year and perhaps permanently.
“When I started my career I wasn’t really planning on having blood clots to finish it, you know what I mean?” McCormick said. “I thought I would play it out as long as I could until they kicked me off the ice.”
McCormick still hopes he’ll leave the game on his own terms. He skates with injured teammates in First Niagara Center almost every morning, keeping alive the dream that he’ll one day do it at night with fans in the stands.
“I’m just not ready to believe I can’t play again,” McCormick said. “There’s people telling me I shouldn’t play, but I just want to make sure I explore everything before I believe that.”
McCormick watched with interest this week as Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis retired because of blood clots. Dupuis returned after his initial diagnosis, but he said he no longer wanted to frighten his family after several scares took him off the ice.
It was as if Dupuis had ripped the words from McCormick’s head.
“When he retired, he said everything I was thinking,” McCormick said. “You don’t want to have people worrying about you when you’re on the ice. There would be risk to playing. It’s trying to evaluate how much risk.
“You don’t want the family to worry.”
McCormick’s wife has been his pillar of support as he weighs returning to the ice versus staying with his family, which includes 6- and 2-year-old daughters, and an 8-month-old son. He relishes the unexpected time he gets to spend with them, but he misses the dressing-room camaraderie and on-ice action.
“It’s kind of a different lifestyle this season, not traveling, not really around the team like I used to be,” he said. “You’re not really living the highs and lows with the guys in the room. That’s definitely a tough part of it.”
McCormick sees all of his teammates in the weight room, but the only ice time he gets is light skates with fellow players on injured reserve. That’s only because he asked for permission from General Manager Tim Murray, coach Dan Bylsma and the medical staff.
“I was working out without a real target,” McCormick said. “In hockey there’s always injuries, so I wanted to contribute a little more. I asked Tim Murray and the medical staff and Dan if it would be all right if I went on the ice with the injured guys just to help out and see if I could contribute a little more than just being around the weight room.
“I think just being able to go on the ice still with these guys in that capacity is beneficial for me.”
Because he’s on blood thinners, McCormick can’t be cleared to play. He may have to take medication forever.
“That’s still something I’m trying to find out,” he said. “I’m trying to see some more doctors and see what they’ve had in their experience and what they’ve found with their research.”
He traces the clots to blocking a shot with his foot Jan. 3. He played three more games and scored a short-handed goal in his last game Jan. 9 in Tampa Bay.
“My last game that I played, I got hit in the chest and I thought I had the wind knocked out of me,” McCormick said. “I went to the rink the next day for treatment just to see what the medical staff thought about it, and they wanted to make sure they canceled out all the bad stuff that it could possibly be with chest pain. They sent me in to the hospital, and they found blood clots in my lung that day.”
His season ended three months early, and this one never started. He knew when he arrived for his training-camp physical that he’d go back on the injured-reserve list despite having no symptoms.
“I feel as normal as ever,” said McCormick, who knows he’s at risk for further clots. “Trauma can cause it. Dehydration. Immobility. That’s three things that come with playing professional sports.
“The chance of a reoccurrence is something that I’m still trying to explore.”
McCormick is in the second season of a three-year, $4.5 million contract. He’s totaled 432 games, 23 goals and 70 points while earning teammates’ respect with 59 fights.
Though he may not add to those numbers, he realizes he’s a lucky man.
“I’m definitely getting more time with my kids, with my young family,” said McCormick, who tucked his daughters into bed while his teammates spent the week in western Canada. “I’m seeing everything that I might have missed before.”